Maxwell Sim seems to have hit rock bottom. Estranged from his father, newly divorced, unable to communicate with his only daughter, he realises that while he may have 74 friends on Facebook, there is nobody in the world with whom he can actually share his problems.
Then a business proposition comes his way - a strange exercise in corporate PR that will require him to spend a week driving from London to a remote retail outlet on the Shetland Isles. Setting out with an open mind, good intentions and a friendly voice on his SatNav for company, Maxwell finds that this journey soon takes a more serious turn....
If you've read Coe's previous fiction, you know that the novel preceding this one, "The Rain Before It Falls", was a departure from all his earlier work in having very little humor; instead it was an elegaic story about memory, family secrets, and how we piece together other people's stories. "The Terrible Privacy of Maxwell Sim" shares all of those themes but restores the comedy: plenty of moments in this novel are demonically funny, though usually more in the ironic mode than laugh-out-loud. (Although Sim's romance with his satnav, aka GPS, is pretty hilarious.) Fans of Coe's earlier fiction should enjoy this one, and for new readers this is a good one to start with.
The narrator and main character, Maxwell Sim, starts off as such a sad sack—or schlemiel, or sorry sod, depending on your idiom—that he's a bit painful to travel along with at first. But Colin Buchanan's narrative voice is energetic enough that Sim never becomes boring. (Buchanan, who is Scottish, does a good job with the variety of northern, Midland, Southern English and Australian accents of the novel's main characters.)
The novel has a somewhat unexpected happy ending--well, mostly happy--and a puzzlingly self-indulgent little epilogue that Coe should probably have left off and that knocks the fifth star off my rating.
2 of 2 people found this review helpful
A story very well told. I'm loving Jonathan Coe more and more after I finish reading each book of his. It is about a man who could be any of us who has to cope with his immense lack of affect coming from far away in the past, from the relationship with his parents. The journey he accidentally gets involved in leads him through a parallel deep journey inside his feelings path who gets him to a sort of clue at the end. The writing is absolutely brilliant and intrigueing; it made me laugh and cry to death, realizing how the journey towards our self consciousness can be very long and hard for many of us. There's a message of hope in it I deeply share with the author: when you get to the very bottom and there's no more to dig the only thing you can do is raise up to the top. On the other side we have to keep in mind that we are not eternal, the sooner we get to the clue, the better we can live the rest our life, which can end from one moment to the other just like a snap of fingers.
Colin Buchanan has been a very nice company, nearly a close friend for the days of listening, funny and extraordinarly communicative as touching and reachable in his deep sensibility and warmth. Very hard to part from Jonathan and Colin by now but I'm pretty sure we'll see each other soon. Five stars, highly recommended!!!!!
Listening to his book is like solving a jigsaw puzzle. I like the way old memoirs found in the attic, seemingly unrelated events and people gradually fall into place to form a whole picture at the conclusion. Unexpected ending is a must-be in Coe's novels so I anticipated one here as well. But I believe that even if I had spent ages trying to figure that one out I wouldn't have come up with the missing piece.
Maxwell Sim is who Adrian Mole could be at 48. Naive almost to the point of childishness, low on self-esteem and "on the rebound" (for years now). Both have a comic trait to them but tragicomic is an adjective that would characterize Sim better (although there is a sort of a happy ending). His life is so mundane and his attempts to change it so pathetic that maybe one could not even call him that. Yet at the same time you cannot help liking him (clever how Coe constructs his characters) because being the narrator he keeps trying to convice you he is you pal. Most of the thoughts he offers reflect those of an average man living at the end of the 1st decade of the 21th century (eg. "these bankers and their bonuses, it's outrageous", "I have a million friends on Facebook and hardly anybody I could talk to, whatever happened to eye-to-eye contact these days?" etc) and are never controversial.
There was one thread I found a little bothersome. While on a journey to Shetlands Sim starts to have conversations with his sat nav. It was funny for the first hour but as the journey continued and he kept that up it began to get a bit annoying. Especially that with a couple of exceptions "continue on the current motorway" was the only response he could extract from the machine. There was a point at which I was on the brink of deciding to rate the book 2/6 because of this, but then, fortunately, his car battery went flat.
I think this is two books in one novel. One a quite funny critique of modern Britain and its town centre sameness and the ultimate loneliness of modern society. The other, better book, is about attaching meaning to meaningless random events and eventually finding some sort of resolution to your problems.
5 of 5 people found this review helpful
Really original. I enjoyed every minute
1 of 1 people found this review helpful
This was a brilliantly written and very funny book; interwoven with a real story (I checked it out on the internet) and even with the author making an appearance; I did not guess the twist (although there where plenty of clues) until the very end. The chapter where Maxwell goes from interacting playfully with his sat-nav to an all out argument as his mind dwindles is a classic. A must listen
1 of 1 people found this review helpful
This book draws you into a deep and intense story through humour and incident. Highly recomended,
1 of 1 people found this review helpful
Would you try another book written by Jonathan Coe or narrated by Colin Buchanan?
Not sure, LOVED Expo 57 and cannot believe this was so uneventful and lame.
What could Jonathan Coe have done to make this a more enjoyable book for you?
Left out 50% of it. Four verses of the wheels on the bus? Really?
What do you think the narrator could have done better?
He was fine.
What character would you cut from The Terrible Privacy of Maxwell Sim?
Any additional comments?
Could have taken half the time!
I was told this book was all about books in an age of social media which it isn't at all. Hi ho. I enjoyed it though. The protagonist's doomed journey to Shetland is sweet and the impossible contrived situations are fun.
I'm not sure what I think of the closing passage where the Maxwell meets the author. It's been done a few times before (Douglas Coupland in J-Pod, Kurt Vonnegut in... Is it Breakfast of Champions...? Jostein Gaarder in Sophie's World spring to mind.) and as a get-out from a book it felt just a couple of levels up from "he woke up and found it was all a dream". Still, it's funny and I cared about the characters and sometimes that's all you need.
I don't often comment on the narrator unless they are very good or very bad. In this case, he was very good. He understood the book, read it credibly, even had the right access. A great choice!
An entertaining book about one man's mundane collapsing life, covering ordinary life that i don't feel is written about enough. I felt it was spoilt somewhat by the end which seemed self-indulgent - a kind of clever modern author's version of 'and then I woke up'. Worth a listen if you like Jonathan Coe, but i think 'What A Carve Up', 'The Rotters Club' and 'The Closed Circle' are better.
If I'd read all but the last chapter of this book, I would probably have given it 4 stars. It portrayed a sympathetic portrait of a lonely, socially inept individual, and as it revealed more and more about him and the reasons for his condition, I became increasingly engrossed. The well crafted narrative built towards a gripping and page-turning ending. Everything was falling into place, the loose ends were being tied up and I was looking forward to the conclusion. Then the author suddenly came up with a bizarre non-sequitur of an ending that seemed to bear little or no relation to the preceding story. It left me feeling like I'd eaten a delicious meal followed by a bar of soap for dessert.
I really enjoyed Colin Buchanan's excellent readings of 'The Rotters Club' and 'The Closed Circle' and this was more of the same. It is a excellent story sensitively told and the reading and charcterisation is superb. It is a much slighter story than 'The Rotter's Club' and I thought that the final coda was not necessary. I thoroughly enjoyed this - and would recommend it.